By Scott Taylor
Last Thursday the Department of National Defence held a press conference in Ottawa to report that Canadian Special Forces soldiers have engaged in combat in northern Iraq in recent days.
They did not use the actual c-word to describe the combat; they simply acknowledged that Canadian soldiers returned fire after being shot at by Daesh fighters. That, by the way, is combat.
No details about the combat were revealed, but Brig.-Gen. Peter Dawe noted to journalists that the incidents had been “sporadic” and had not resulted in any injuries to Canadian soldiers. Then Dawe fell back behind the catch-all cloak of ‘operational security’ when he declined to detail the exact number of incidents and the number of soldiers involved in the combat.
In fact, Dawe went so far as to withhold the number of Special Forces soldiers Canada currently has deployed to the region. When the previous Conservative government first committed personnel to Iraq in October 2014, the number of soldiers was announced as 69 members of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment.
This past spring, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ended Canada’s commitment of combat aircraft to the Allied effort in Iraq, he also agreed to boost the number of Special Forces personnel deployed by 200.
Now it seems that Canada has entered a new phase and Canadians are being told even less about what our combat contributions consists of. We have secret soldiers, embarking on secret missions in a hugely complex conflict, but rest assured folks, we are all safer because of it.
Dawe’s superior officer, Lt.-Gen. Stephen Bowes, commander of Canadian Joint Operations Command, was present at the press conference and he warned Canadians not to expect a quick victory over Daesh anytime soon. “Progress can be slow,” warned Bowes, and he predicted it will take many years to defeat Daesh.
At the moment, Daesh is fighting in Iraq and Syria as conventional combat forces. They have heavy weapons and armoured vehicles, and they hold and defend vast tracts of land and urban centres. They are zealots, but they are not exactly first-rate experienced soldiers. Many of them are ideologically driven foreign nut jobs.
Given the success the Americans enjoyed against Saddam Hussein’s much better-equipped army during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it would take a NATO standard armoured division — backed by the Allies’ overwhelming airpower — less than one week to destroy Daesh forces and reclaim all territory in their self-proclaimed caliphate. So why then, you ask yourself, has Daesh been able to withstand the combined efforts of the U.S.-led coalition since the fall of 2014?
We all know these guys are evildoers, and that is about the only thing that all the various state players and stakeholders agree upon. Despite all the silly name-calling by Western pundits, and the fact that Daesh has committed some terrifying atrocities within their territory, the truth is that in Syria and Iraq they are not fighting as terrorists. They are identifiable as combatants operating within a defined boundary.
Therein lies the rub as to why the U.S.-led coalition is in no real rush to capture Daesh’s caliphate.
A hornet’s nest presents a nuisance. But if you whack and smash that hornet’s nest you are going to have a much bigger problem. For the U.S.-backed coalition forces to break the back of Daesh’s conventional forces will simply force all of those ideologically motivated zealots to resort to actual acts of revenge terrorism.
Given the instability and lack of security throughout the region — not to mention the various ultimate end goals that each of the various coalition factions seek — there is no way that victory over Daesh will result in the death or capture of all its volunteers. And whichever troops are saddled with occupying the recaptured caliphate territory will no doubt suffer a deadly campaign of actual terror attacks. Not to mention the other Daesh jihadists who will seek vengeance further afield.
The reason that Daesh has not been defeated before now is for the simple reason that the status quo is a less dangerous reality.